Measuring Laws By the Ton

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Salon's longtime support of the Democrats has turned increasingly toward National Review-esque shilling this election season, and I'm tempted to start pitching them headline ideas:

"Swift boat vets McHale and Jonas Grundy are quietly supporting Kerry. So why isn't the mainstream media paying attention to them?"

"Think Barack Obama's too good to be true? Wrong! He's even better!"

"A dream-sequence/sex romp with Alexis Carrington, Pamela Harriman, and THK, in the latest installment of Dave Eggers' online novel."

Anyway, today Tim Grieve offers a detailed defense (ad serve req.) of Kerry against the two popular charges that he is the "most liberal senator" and that he has no big legislative achievements. In the case of the former, Grieve provides plenty of numbers and ratings, though proving that Kerry is really only the eleventh or twelfth most liberal senator is pretty underwhelming. As for the latter, why should Kerry have to be defended from this charge at all?

The Kerryites should be all over the country applauding their guy for not having a "major piece of legislation with his name on it." Would that every senator could make that claim. Since conservatives allegedly want less government and fewer laws, why not play up the uneventful legislative record as proof that Kerry is more conservative, in practice if not in theory, than he's getting credit for? And while we're at it why not retire the cockeyed practice of using named legislation as a yardstick of political performance?

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  1. It’s Grumby, not Grundy. Tsk.

  2. well, the distinction between Kerry being labeled THE MOST liberal senator and, say, only the thirteenth most liberal senator IS pretty significant, given the weight and emphasis that republican pundits and Bush administration surrogates (CNN anchors included) are giving that particular talking point. See the Daily Howler (http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh072904.shtml) and this blog (http://mostliberalsenator.blogspot.com/) to debunk the whole “Kerry is the most liberal senator” lie. Click my name to see The Daily Show with Jon Stewart clip on this point.

    Also, it just might impact a potential voter’s decision to learn that the spin points coming out of the mouths of Bush surrogates are blatantly and demonstrably false. They might even get it in their heads that Bush is the worst president ever

  3. Any litmus test you administer will reveal that Kerry is a liberal. It’s splitting hairs to try and quantify his “liberality”.

    I agree that Bush will probably not go down in history as one of our greatest presidents. He will probably be remembered just as fondly as we remember John Quincy Adams, the son of John Adams.

    Given a choice, however, (and we are given a choice) I will take Bush over Kerry. When I hear Kerry speak, I get a flashback to the Jimmy Carter era and I have no desire to live through that again. Where’s the Gipper when you need him! At least people felt inspired and had hope when Reagan spoke. John Kerry seems to put everybody, including his supporters, asleep!

  4. “Proving” that Kerry is really only the eleventh or twelfth most liberal senator may sound underwhelming, but consider how Kerry advocates will use this “proof.” What they’ll do is wait around for a Republican to accuse Kerry of being the most liberal Senator, then scream “liar, that’s story’s been debunked!” They did it with Al Gore and the Internet, they’ll do it with this.

  5. Well, if I were running a campaign against John Kerry, I’d probably ditch the “most liberal senator” part on the grounds that it all depends on which metric you use, and opt for something a little more substantive. Like “Kerry voted for [insert bad legislation here] and against [insert good legislation here].”

    I know, people could still argue that [insert bad legislation here] was part of a compromise to achieve [insert good goal here] and that [insert good legislation here] had some hideous amendment tacked on. But at least it would give the voters a more concrete reason to vote against him.

    Then again, nobody who cares about substantive arguments would be allowed to run a campaign for EITHER party. So I guess I’d better stay out of politics.

  6. I provide a handy chart here. (no ad serv. required).

    That’s based on the ADA lifetime rankings, and ADA is a “liberal” group.

    Those who were ranked lower than Kerry (i.e., more mean-spirited) included: Kucinich, Walter Mondale, Teddy Kennedy, and Carol Mosely-Brown.

    I did, however find two senators who ranked higher (i.e., more angelic) than Kerry.

  7. Tim C.

    “The Kerryites should be all over the country applauding their guy for not having a “major piece of legislation with his name on it.”

    Kerryites, by definition, want Kerry to have done a LOT for the poor, the less fortunate, and the oppressed. Were they libertarians, this argument would fly; but they are Democrats – so that is not something they would tout.

  8. “And while we’re at it why not retire the cockeyed practice of using named legislation as a yardstick of political performance?”

    Sponsorship is not a measure of whether one supports good ideas or not but it is a measure of ones political leadership and consensus building abilities.

    Sponsors not only get credit for the bill but they are responsible for herding it through the confirmation process. Sponsors draft bills, argue for them in committee and have primary responsibility for rounding up votes for them. Legislators fight over the right to sponsor bills and a lot of horse-trading goes into who gets to sponsor popular measures.

    Sponsorship therefor becomes a strong predictor of a legislators influence and effectiveness. A legislator with few sponsored bills to his name is usually a marginal player.

    In Kerry case, however, this may not be true. He has the misfortune to share a state with Edward Kennedy with whom he differs in policy very little. If Kerry supported a bill it may have been more practical to get Kennedy’s more prominent name on it.

    So Kerry is either not much a leader and consensus builder or is functionally a passive clone of Edward Kennedy. Neither explanation marks him as a person who would be an effective president.

  9. Yeah, I know, Zorel. I’m being sophistical, though I do think the no-new-laws argument is always worth making.

  10. At this point, I don’t believe I will ever know what Kerry is about or where he stands. And, I don’t care.

  11. John Kerry is a total liar. Some of the issues taken up by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth make me uncomfortable, such as attacking his war medals. But they have amply demonstrated that for most of his career Kerry has told a total and malicious lie, namely, that he was illegally ordered into Cambodia by his superiors and spent Xmas Eve and Xmas Day there in ’68. He has long purported that this was “seared” into his memory because of Richard Nixon’s denials that GIs were in Cambodia — uh, Nixon was not yet President in December of ’68. Of course, neither was Kerry was in Cambodia. But it made great copy when he was making a name for himslef as an anti-war vet and telling lies to the U.S. Senate in ’71, to claim the “war criminals,” as he called them, in his chain of command had illegally ordered him into Cambodia.

    His own journal entries make it clear he lied, and so does his authorized biography. The SBVTs all deny that any of them had been in Cambodia, and say Kerry has been lying, as recently as 1986 when he insisted on the truth of this claim on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

    Now his campaign team is claiming he was lost and/or confused, and really thought he had been in Cambodia. Puh-leeeze. He spent Xmas day at Base Camp, writing in his freaking journal, not seeing combat in Cambodia or anywhere else.

  12. “Since conservatives allegedly want less government and fewer laws, why not play up the uneventful legislative record as proof that Kerry is more conservative, in practice if not in theory, than he’s getting credit for?”

    The fact that someone may not have personally written many new legislative bills, is not proof that that person is in favor of fewer laws or less government. Writing a bill is not necessarily proof of a prefernce for big government, as you have to submit a bill to repeal a big government law already in existance. The proof of Senator’s political philosophy is in the type of legislation he votes for or against. Kerry’s voting record, his stated policies all point toward someone who believes and trusts in the power and efficacy of government. I suppose even Democrat Party operatives have a better grasp of simple logic than certain Reason staff members.

  13. The Kerryites should be all over the country applauding their guy for not having a “major piece of legislation with his name on it.”

    I might buy into that if Kerry were running for re-election as a senator or being considered for, say, a judgeship or even a cabinet post. But if the man wants to be President, especially by ousting an incumbent, then I’m not sure it’s unreasonable to ask, “well, what have you been doing for the past 19 years?”

  14. I think the point is that we should be thankful that there exist Senators and Representatives that have accomplished damn near nothing during their tenures.

    We should be so lucky if all our elected representatives accomplished so little.

  15. “Read My Lips. No New Laws!” Hmmm. Might work….

  16. Salon’s longtime support of the Democrats has turned increasingly toward National Review-esque shilling

    Hit&Run isn’t sounding much better with the continued shrillization by porch-republicans Tim & Hanah.

  17. What an enormously weak article Salon has. But kudoos for defending the indefensable.

  18. “Liberals spend just as much time attacking government’s actions is certain areas as they do trying to expand or modify the government’s actions in others.”

    Hmm. I dunno about that. From your perspective as a Dem, if you are looking at the Dem platform, then deduct the portions that represent increases in government programs, what do you see that is left? The stump speaches are all spending on this and spending on that.

    We’d have a modified Patriot act, I suppose, and maybe a smaller military?

  19. Jesus Christ, the Swift Boat trolling is fierce. They’re in every comment thread I hit, on every blog I wander into. They’re all repeating the same thing, and seem pissy that no one really seems to care.

    Desperate much? Damn.

  20. “Let’s reverse that, do you think for a moment that Kerry would remotely stand a chance if his press bias were reversed?

    According to the press Bush is a wastrel, ex-drunk, moron, liar, draft-dodging deserter, and traitor, and Kerry STILL can?t get any serious traction!?!”

    That’s an excellent point and it’s telling that Kerry is the “best” the Democrats could give us.

    But why do you think that Bush is capable of leading our country now? I mean, here’s a guy who brags about not reading the paper (not reading period), who admits that God told him to invade Iraq, who consulted his vice-president, public relations manager and the ambassador of Saudi Arabia, but not his Secretary of State, before deciding to invade Iraq. I understand the man’s likeability. Hell, he’d be more fun to have a barbeque with than Kerry. But until someone can provide me with some evidence that the man has some kind of thoughtful insight on any topic of import, I’ll consider him to be intellectually unfit for the job.

  21. Mona, we know that George W. Bush lied when he said, “when I was running for president, in Chicago, somebody said, would you ever have deficit spending? I said, only if we were at war, or only if we had a recession, or only if we had a national emergency. Never did I dream we’d get the trifecta.” He also repeated this story several times after it had been shown to be false.

    He might not have lied when he said, “We found the weapons of mass destruction.” He might have been stupid or incompetent enough to have believed it at the time (though, while I’m not convinced he’s intelligent, I don’t know if he’s THAT stupid). Does it bother you as much that the President lies as much as it does that a presidential candidate lies?

    I’m not a Kerry supporter, I’m just wondering if you’re as critical of Bush as you are of Kerry. And if not, why?

  22. Jason, I said liberal, not Democratic. In my opinion, the DNC platform tends to be the least liberal, and the most centrist, on exactly those issues about which the liberal position is the smaller government position. For example, the drug war or anti-gay laws.

  23. I think Bush and Kerry are in a competition, each one trying to be less palatable than the other. They’re doing this so that no matter which one wins we can say “Well, at least it wasn’t the other guy!”

  24. Apparently you have never heard of the Kerry Bill or the Kerry Amendment?

    Tim, you really ought to pony up for a subscription to Google.

  25. I think the point is that Kerry has spent 20 years in the Senate as a leftist dillitante. He holds no leadership position among the Democrats, he is ranking member of no standing committees. At best, he lacks leadership abilities; at worst, he’s a flake as some of his Cambodia stories seem to indicate.

  26. “I’m not a Kerry supporter, I’m just wondering if you’re as critical of Bush as you are of Kerry. And if not, why?”?

    Let’s reverse that, do you think for a moment that Kerry would remotely stand a chance if his press bias were reversed?

    According to the press Bush is a wastrel, ex-drunk, moron, liar, draft-dodging deserter, and traitor, and Kerry STILL can?t get any serious traction!?!

    If the ?Shining Knight? is hanging onto 40+% against the moron, what?s going to happen if the Knight?s armor is suddenly revealed to be chinked ala SBVT?

    (too many mixed metaphors, I?m getting an ice cream headache)

    I am very critical of Bush.

    Based on his first three budgets, Bush is the biggest spending president in decades. For FY2004, discretionary outlays will rise 3.5 percent, which follows increases of 7.8 percent in FY2003 and 13.1 percent in FY2002. Non-defense discretionary outlays will rise 3.2 percent in FY2004 following increases of 7.9 percent in FY2003 and 12.3 percent in FY2002.

    I?m appalled at Bush?s spending. I am a dedicated Libertarian capitalist and voted for Bush for several reasons; the most important was that he had promised to reduce government. His tax cuts were nothing more than an attempt to reduce the federal government by restricting its dependence on taxpayer money to fund pet projects.

    But 9/11 and the WOT trump any other concerns I have, for me its that simple.

  27. Hi Tim. Caught you via Instapundit.

    Yes, you’re quite right that the best thing about Kerry is that he has no legislation with his name on it. The only legislation I would like to see in the next Congress is called REPEAL – Titles 9 and 7, for example.

    The difficulty is that trumpeting his lack of record would apeal to the wrong crowd. Liberals love lawyers and laws – it’s what they thrive on. So bragging this up would not help him gain liberal votes. It would likewise not gain him conservative votes. Conservatives realize that the lack of legislation is not due to any libertarian viewpoint, but rather to a doltish and vacous personality of no substance. So, in sum, while I agree his lack of legislative record is a plus, marketing it won’t get him anywhere.

  28. ‘The Kerryites should be all over the country applauding their guy for not having a “major piece of legislation with his name on it.”‘

    Hi, I’m joe. You may have noticed me making this point.

    Several of the posters above seem to equate “not being a sponsor” with “not doing anything.” Kerry has not spent his career doing nothing – his most significant efforts involve working to change or eliminate wrongheaded or corrupt actions by the government, such as the shady BCCI dealings, the Guns-for-hostages-for-Nicaraguan-death-squads scandal, and the anachronistic state-of-war state of relations with Vietnam.

    Cleaning up government’s messes doesn’t generate the headlines that you can get by creating new ones. But dear Reason reader, you already knew that.

  29. “The difficulty is that trumpeting his lack of record would apeal to the wrong crowd. Liberals love lawyers and laws – it’s what they thrive on. So bragging this up would not help him gain liberal votes.”

    I think you are making the error of defining a movement as the opposite of a competing movement. Just because conservatives/libertarians have hung their hat on the smaller government hook does mean that their ideological opposition is motivated by the desire for bigger government. Liberals spend just as much time attacking government’s actions is certain areas as they do trying to expand or modify the government’s actions in others.

    Liberals sometimes make the same mistake, that of defining their opponents as the opposite of themselves. I believe that much of the liberal tendency to accuse the opposition of racism comes from the fact that liberals are very motivated by anti-racism, and therefore assume that those arguing the opposite side on specific issues are motivated by racism.

    So to sum up, I can see a “John Kerry – crusader against government abuse” argument appealing to liberals.

  30. “And while we’re at it why not retire the cockeyed practice of using named legislation as a yardstick of political performance?”

    Amen! Here in Silicon Valley, where new products are built everyday with teams, credit may be given internally, but to the buying public, only the company’s name appears on the product. Teams that obsess over who gets credit for what are doomed to fail, and there may be no better example of a broken new product development process than the US Senate! Measure Congressmen and Senators by their VOTING records, and the Congress’s overall results, not whether they sponsored some bill or amendment.

    Forget about who gets the credit and play for the team to win and maybe we can get something done for a change in Washington …

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